The big question: Should you?
“People with diabetes may be looking for something that seems less potent than a medication or something that will treat other health issues beyond blood sugar control, such as high cholesterol,” notes Laura Shane-McWhorter, PharmD, a University of Utah professor of pharmacotherapy and author of The American Diabetes Association Guide to Herbs & Nutritional Supplements: What You Need to Know from Aloe to Zinc. But experts are reluctant to recommend supplements to people with diabetes for two important health reasons. First, there’s virtually no research on long-term safety. Second, no supplement controls blood sugar as effectively as diabetes drugs (in combination with a healthy lifestyle).
“There are no miracle treatments for diabetes,” Shane-McWhorter says. “The most important thing to know if you have diabetes is that no supplement will take care of it for you. Diabetes is a condition that can be well controlled with a healthy lifestyle plus medication if needed. A supplement can’t replace those.”
And new science is changing the supplement landscape. In consulting the latest research as well as supplement experts for this report on the best-studied and most widely used supplements, we found that some popular pills—chromium, we’re talking about you—aren’t living up to their reputations. Others, such as vitamin D or psyllium, may be more promising. Still others should be avoided because they make false claims (supplements that promote weight loss tend to be a red flag). As recently as January of 2012, the FDA told makers of one weight-loss supplement to stop touting it as a diabetes remedy.
However, used safely, certain supplements might help you step up your blood sugar control a notch or two or help control risk for heart disease, the most common and life-threatening diabetes complication. Here, the supplements you should consider adding to (and dropping from) your diabetes treatment plan.
Next: Consider Vitamin D for a diabetic diet